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5% Discount on Legal Highs, Salvia Divinorum and Everything Else From The Coffeesh0p

Legal Highs & The 2010 Drug Strategy

Last week saw the release of the UK Government’s 2010 drug strategy, and so far, this is all I’ve had time to say on the matter:

While I may have spent the time since doing some hard­core diver­si­fic­a­tion (more on that at a later date…), what the gov­ern­ment actu­ally pro­poses sounds more ridicu­lous as each day passes, so I’ve gone through all the new pub­lic­a­tions, pulled out everything related to legal highs and dis­played them below for your con­veni­ence. I’ve also listed a few other choice quotes that stood out at the time (I’m sure there’s more to be found, but I’ve only skimmed it). My com­ments are in pink.

Drug Strategy 2010 Main Document

Over the last few years, a new trend has emerged. There is emer­ging evid­ence that young people are taking new legal chem­icals instead of or as well as other drugs. Most of these sub­stances have never been tested for use by humans. The imme­diate risks they pose or the long term damage they are doing, are often not imme­di­ately apparent as their harms are unknown.
  • If the problem is “young people”, why not restrict it like alcohol?
  • Even if legal highs were tri­alled like phar­ma­ceut­icals, they’d still never be approved for con­sump­tion because they’re largely recreational
This Gov­ern­ment is com­mitted to an evidence-​​based approach. High quality sci­entific advice in this complex field is there­fore of the utmost import­ance. This is why we value the work and inde­pendent advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which has experts from fields that include science, medi­cine, law enforce­ment and social policy. We are com­mitted to both main­taining this expertise and ensuring the ACMD’s mem­ber­ship has the flex­ib­ility to respond to the accel­er­ating pace of chal­lenges. The proper con­sid­er­a­tion of that advice is at the heart of enabling us to deliver this strategy, including the reforms required to tackle the problem of emer­ging new psy­cho­active sub­stances (‘legal highs’).
  • There’s plenty of evid­ence showing pro­hib­i­tion doesn’t work — con­sump­tion will stay the same (if not actu­ally increase); sales can’t be taxed, purity will decrease, users are less likely to seek help in an emer­gency. Actu­ally, here’s some evid­ence our former MP sent to Alan Johnson last year when he sacked David Nutt.
  • When mephed­rone was banned, it was clear the gov­ern­ment intended to ban it anyway, pres­suring the ACMD to hurry the fuck up while redu­cing a lot of their hard work to a mere formality.
  • The gov­ern­ment wants to scrap the require­ment to have sci­ent­ists on the ACMD. More info on that at The Guardian.

The Gov­ern­ment is determ­ined to address the issue of so called ‘legal highs’. We know that these sub­stances can pose a serious threat, espe­cially to the health of young people. We need a swift and effective response and are there­fore redesigning the legal frame­work through the devel­op­ment of tem­porary class drug orders so we can take imme­diate action. We will improve the forensic ana­lyt­ical cap­ab­ility for new psy­cho­active sub­stances and will estab­lish an effective forensic early warning system.

UKBA are under­taking enforce­ment action at the border to target and inter­cept con­sign­ments of these new sub­stances. The Serious Organ­ised Crime Agency (SOCA) is cur­rently devel­oping approaches to identify importers, dis­trib­utors and sellers of ‘legal highs’ and disrupt their ven­tures, including activity against web­sites. We are also intro­du­cing tech­no­logy at the borders to identify these new types of drugs.

These enforce­ment activ­ities will be com­bined with pre­ven­tion, edu­ca­tion and treat­ment. We will
con­tinue to emphasise that, just because a drug is legal to possess, it does not mean it is safe and it is
likely that drugs sold as ‘legal highs’ may actu­ally contain sub­stances that are illegal to possess.

Legal means safe!

  • First para­graph sug­gests more powers to ban stuff is the only pos­sible way of “addressing” the “issue”. Very much shoot first, ask ques­tions later…
  • Activ­ities against web­sites, which aren’t actu­ally breaking the laws? Hmm.
  • Of course legal doesn’t mean safe — alcohol and tobacco are legal, after all. Do kids think it accept­able enjoy their Frosties with a splash of ice cold ethanol every morning?
  • Also, banning some­thing because sellers might sell an illegal sub­sti­tute instead is mental. If I went to the super­market and cheekily sprinkled cocaine on the dough­nuts, would dough­nuts be banned? Obvi­ously the best way to tackle this fairly serious issue would be through reg­u­la­tion. Obvi­ously.

Strategy Impact Assessment

Descrip­tion and scale of key mon­et­ised costs by ‘main affected groups’

The tem­porary banning power for so-​​called “legal highs” is an enabling power and there­fore has no direct impact. There will be some limited addi­tional eco­nomic and fin­an­cial costs incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of the intro­duc­tion of the Drug Strategy; however we have not included the value of these mon­et­ised costs owing to the early phase of devel­op­ment and the poten­tial com­mer­cial sens­it­ivity of such analysis.
  • Costs will surely be massive, as my next comment suggests


There has also been the emer­gence of “legal highs” as a new trend with young people taking new legal chem­icals instead of or as well as other drugs. Most of these sub­stances have never been tested for use on humans and the imme­diate risks they pose or the long term damage they cause are often not imme­di­ately apparent as the harms are unknown.
Legis­la­tion is required to intro­duce a new system of tem­porary bans on new “legal highs” while health issues are con­sidered by inde­pendent experts.
  • How much time and money will it cost to fully analyse a sub­stance? If 10 new sub­stances emerge around the same time, that cost increases tenfold, along with the pres­sure to com­plete each ana­lysis within the allotted time­frame (which isn’t spe­cified any­where in these doc­u­ments — more on that later).
  • A great deal of the evid­ence con­sidered by the ACMD comes from users, such as forum posts, hos­pital visits or amnesty bins outside nightclubs, for example. How will they pick up on idio­syn­crasies affecting say one in 1000 people? I somehow doubt that a rushed report based on poor evid­ence will be par­tic­u­larly thorough.
  • How dan­gerous does some­thing have to be to earn itself a ban? Any­thing psy­cho­active is poten­tially dan­gerous, as an altered mental state could lead to an acci­dent or some­thing; driving while tired is dan­gerous enough to warrant loads of signs along the motorway but we’re not banning tired­ness (although, that would be awesome if it were somehow pos­sible!). I just can’t imagine a report con­cluding “Naw, it’s totally fine!” about any­thing that isn’t com­pletely inert.
  • The ACMD have reported before about what a stupid idea it was to upgrade can­nabis to class B, but the gov­ern­ment went ahead anyway. What’s stop­ping them from doing the same in these situ­ations? This whole idea looks like an under­hand way of intro­du­cing a new super­charged banning stick, like using anti-​​terror legis­la­tion to silence pro­testers or harass minorities.

Redu­cing Supply

Reduce the risk of harm from new psy­cho­active sub­stances, so called “legal highs”: by intro­du­cing a system of tem­porary bans while the health issues are con­sidered by inde­pendent experts

We will estab­lish an effective forensic early warning system

We will intro­duce tech­no­logy at the borders to assist with the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of new drugs

Work with UK based internet pro­viders to ensure they comply with the letter and spirit of UK law

Cost /​ Benefit

PolicySummary of Costs /​ Bene­fits
Reduce the risk of harm from new psy­cho­active sub­stances, so called “legal highs”: by intro­du­cing a system of tem­porary bans while the health issues are con­sidered by inde­pendent expertsCostsIt is not pos­sible to quantify the costs of these pro­vi­sions. As the pro­vi­sions intro­duce an enabling power for tem­porary bans, rather than con­trolling any spe­cific sub­stance, it has not been pos­sible to quantify the costs. The use of this pro­vi­sion will depend on the rate at which new poten­tially harmful “legal highs” are intro­duced to the UK market. A full Reg­u­latory Impact Assess­ment will be com­pleted on each occa­sion that the power is used, taking into account any evid­ence on pre­val­ence of avail­ab­ility and use, in the same way when a drug is brought under per­manent control under 1971 Act.Bene­fitsFor the reasons given, it is not pos­sible to quantify the bene­fits of these pro­vi­sions. The over­arching benefit of a faster legis­lative response is to reduce the like­li­hood of a crim­inal market devel­oping with asso­ci­ated enforce­ment costs as well as lim­iting both poten­tial harm to indi­vidual users health, including depend­ency, with asso­ci­ated treat­ment costs and wider soci­etal harms.
We will estab­lish an effective forensic early warning systemCostsThere will be forensic and general admin­is­trative costs incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of this policy. However, we cannot mon­etise these costs owing to the early phase of devel­op­ment of this policy option and the poten­tial com­mer­cial sens­it­ivity of such ana­lysis.Bene­fitsThere will be non-​​monetised bene­fits incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of this policy. The use of this pro­vi­sion will depend on the rate at which new harmful ‘legal highs’ are intro­duced to the market. We can expect the soci­etal bene­fits of reduced harm from new ‘legal highs’ through the ability to identify and there­fore ban them more quickly.
We will intro­duce tech­no­logy at the borders to assist with the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of new drugs.CostsThere will be forensic and tech­no­lo­gical costs incurred by Gov­ern­ment as a result of this policy. However, we cannot mon­etise these costs owing to the early phase of devel­op­ment of this policy option and the poten­tial com­mer­cial sens­it­ivity of such ana­lysis.Bene­fitsIt is not pos­sible to quantify the bene­fits of these pro­vi­sions. The use of this pro­vi­sion will depend on the rate at which new harmful ‘legal highs’ are intro­duced to the market. We can expect the soci­etal bene­fits of reduced harm from new ‘legal highs’ through the ability to identify and there­fore ban them more quickly.
  • No estimate of the cost for even a single ana­lysis. This bit also points out that these ana­lyses are identical to those already per­formed before a regular ban, so you’d think they’d include an estimate at least.
  • The overall tone sug­gests, once again, that these ana­lyses are no more than a form­ality. They don’t even con­sider what might happen should an ana­lysis con­clude something’s not that bad after all.

The ACMD's Response

What else do you think we can do to keep one step ahead of the chan­ging drugs markets?

Chan­ging drug trends can be iden­ti­fied at many levels, all of which should be mon­itored and inform­a­tion gathered so as to be aware of chan­ging drug markets and ulti­mately, harms to users. Reports may be gathered from the National /​ European level to local level con­cerning ini­tially, (among others), seizures, forensics, acci­dent and emer­gency admis­sions, internet based sales, service users etc. Such evid­ence should be used to inform drugs that are to be considered.

The internet has become a crit­ical vector in the devel­op­ment of drug markets for novel /​ legal highs. Mon­it­oring sales sites and con­ducting test pur­chasing (with forensic exam­in­a­tion of the products) provides key inform­a­tion on emer­ging trends and markets. At present this is an occa­sional aca­demic activity but there is a strong case for this to be routine.

  • So, the best way to “keep ahead” of the chan­ging market is by seeing what happens when people actu­ally use some­thing, which, as I men­tioned before, will be much less effective with a tem­porary ban in place.

Do you have a view on what factors the gov­ern­ment should take into con­sid­er­a­tion when deciding to invoke a tem­porary ban on a new substance?

The ACMD are responding sep­ar­ately to the Min­ister for Crime Pre­ven­tion on this issue. The ACMD’s con­sid­er­a­tion of the ‘trigger point’ for a Tem­porary Banning Power (i.e. factors), as sent to the Min­ister is:

The ACMD does not believe the point at which con­sid­er­a­tion is given to invoking a Tem­porary Banning Power should be too pre­scriptive. The purpose of the tem­porary banning power should be the pre­ven­tion of harms. There­fore, the ACMD con­siders that the trigger point should be ‘[on the avail­able evid­ence] there are reas­on­able grounds for con­sid­ering that a sub­stance does, or has, the poten­tial to cause harm’. As part of the ACMD’s initial con­sid­er­a­tion as to whether a tem­porary banning power should be invoked it will look to under­stand the iden­tity of the sub­stance, con­sider related sub­stances, con­sider any legit­imate uses and gather evid­ence inter­na­tion­ally and locally regarding the sub­stance and its harms (including, for example, A&E admis­sions, known phar­ma­co­logy, depend­ency and social harms etc.). However, it is not pos­sible to detail the ‘level’ of evid­ence that would be required, nor what that evid­ence would be – evid­ence, and the rel­ative import­ance of each type of evid­ence, will depend on the sub­stance being considered.

  • The key phrase here is “[we can temp ban shit if] a sub­stance does, or has, the poten­tial to cause harm” — as I men­tioned before, any­thing has the poten­tial to cause harm. ANYTHING.

Should there be a greater focus on treating people who use sub­stances other than heroin or crack cocaine, such as powder cocaine and so called legal highs?

See earlier answer regarding pre­ven­tion. Service needs should be delivered based on the harms exper­i­enced by each indi­vidual drug (although a full service for all drugs would be the ideal). This prin­ciple is even more important during a period of aus­terity. It would be dif­fi­cult to ask for a widening of remit whilst redu­cing avail­able resources. The ideal answer to this ques­tion is dif­ferent from the prag­matic one. Reduce the risk of harm from new psy­cho­active sub­stances, so called “legal highs”: by intro­du­cing a system of tem­porary bans while the health issues are con­sidered by inde­pendent experts.

Legal Highs Section on the Home Office Website

Action on stop­ping ‘legal highs’ coming on to the market is a pri­ority for the gov­ern­ment. The coali­tion agree­ment states, ‘We will intro­duce a system of tem­porary bans on new “legal highs” while health issues are con­sidered by inde­pendent experts. We will not per­man­ently ban a sub­stance without receiving full advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.’

‘Legal highs’ pose a sig­ni­ficant health risk, so banning is a public health measure. A ban sends a clear message to users of ‘legal highs’ (including young people who may be con­sid­ering trying them), and to those selling them. Young people in par­tic­ular may equate legal with safe and do not always under­stand that these drugs carry real risks.

Mephed­rone (often referred to as ‘meow meow’), an earlier legal high, was made a class B drug in April 2010, while Naphyrone (often sold as ‘NRG-​​1′) was made a class B drug on 23 July 2010. Both these drugs are now illegal to have, sell or give away.

  • What happened fol­lowing the mephed­rone ban (cata­lysed by the media’s undue hype)? Ivory Wave.

TalkToFrank Website

This is the only place with any spe­cifics about the banning process.

The Gov­ern­ment have announced that they will intro­duce a new system of one-​​year tem­porary bans on new ‘legal highs’ while the health issues can be con­sidered by an inde­pendent group of experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).  This new system is likely to be intro­duced in autumn 2011
  • The media keep saying “with imme­diate effect” — August 2011 is hardly immediate
  • The bans are in place for the maximum of a year, while proper clin­ical trials take several years — also, tri­al­ling a new poten­tially life-​​saving drug doesn’t bring up any­where near the amount of ethical issues as testing a recre­ational sub­stance under the assump­tion it’s prob­ably harmful

Interesting Bits & Pieces

The UK is of course not unique in having to con­front drug misuse. So, as we build upon this strategy, we are com­mitted to con­tinuing to review new evid­ence on what works in other coun­tries and what we can learn from it.
  • Lol.
The estim­ated £18 – 25 billion a year cost of alcohol misuse spans alcohol related dis­orders and dis­eases, crime, loss of pro­ductivity in the work­place and health and social prob­lems exper­i­enced by those who misuse alcohol and the impact this has on their fam­ilies. For the NHS alone, the estim­ated fin­an­cial burden of the harmful use of alcohol (reg­u­larly drinking at increasing or higher risk levels) is around £2.7 billion.
  • All of the sci­ences get £3 billion between them. Just sayin’.

It is estim­ated that 1.6 million people have mild, mod­erate or severe alcohol depend­ence. About a third of these will face some chal­lenges that are similar to those dependent on drugs in needing support to help them recover. It is spe­cialist alcohol treat­ment, for those in this group who would benefit from treat­ment, that this strategy aims to improve.

The illicit drug market in the UK is worth an estim­ated £4 – 6 billion per year.

Should we be making more of the poten­tial to use the benefit system to offer claimants a choice between;

  1. some form of fin­an­cial benefit sanc­tion, if they do not to take action to address their drug or alcohol depend­ency; or
  2. addi­tional support to take such steps, by tail­oring the require­ments placed upon them as a con­di­tion of benefit receipt to assist their recovery (for example tem­por­arily removing the need to seek employ­ment whilst under­going treatment).

Treat­ment should not be linked to fin­an­cial sanc­tions. In this scen­ario a few may benefit, however the majority may not as it does not take into account the genesis of the addiction.

Defining drug and alcohol depend­ency may cause some prob­lems – even though there are clear defin­i­tions there may still be dif­fering opinion. Sharing inform­a­tion also presents the ACMD with some concerns.

  • When we first read about this, Jo & I came to the same con­clu­sion imme­di­ately: the gov­ern­ment has no idea what addic­tion is or what it means to be addicted. Nice to know the experts agree — we can’t be going too far wrong!


Well, that’s the lot, but you might be inter­ested in my Top 10 Reasons Why Legal Highs Should Stay Legal.

Posted in Legislation | Tagged ACMD, addiction, alcohol, drug strategy, impact assessment, legal highs, temporary bans |

DEFCON 1: USA Bans Cannabinoids in K2, Spice, et al

Here’s a generic news report you’ve prob­ably all read already:

DEA Moves to Emer­gency Control Syn­thetic Marijuana

Agency Will Study Whether To Per­man­ently Control Five Substances

NOV 24 — WASH­INGTON, D.C. – The United States Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion (DEA) is using its emer­gency scheduling authority to tem­por­arily control five chem­icals (JWH-​​018, JWH-​​073, JWH-​​200, CP-47,497, and can­nabi­cyc­lo­hex­anol) used to make “fake pot” products. Except as author­ized by law, this action will make pos­sessing and selling these chem­icals or the products that contain them illegal in the U.S. for at least one year while the DEA and the United States Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices (DHHS) further study whether these chem­icals and products should be per­man­ently controlled.

A Notice of Intent to Tem­por­arily Control was pub­lished in the Federal Register today to alert the public to this action. After no fewer than 30 days, DEA will publish in the Federal Register a Final Rule to Tem­por­arily Control these chem­icals for at least 12 months with the pos­sib­ility of a six-​​month exten­sion. They will be des­ig­nated as Schedule I sub­stances, the most restrictive cat­egory, which is reserved for unsafe, highly abused sub­stances with no medical usage.

Over the past year, smok­able herbal blends mar­keted as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-​​like high, have become increas­ingly popular, par­tic­u­larly among teens and young adults. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with research chem­icals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. These chem­icals, however, have not been approved by the FDA for human con­sump­tion and there is no over­sight of the man­u­fac­turing process. Brands such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.

Since 2009, DEA has received an increasing number of reports from poison centers, hos­pitals and law enforce­ment regarding these products. Fifteen states have already taken action to control one or more of these chem­icals. The Com­pre­hensive Crime Control Act of 1984 amends the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act (CSA) to allow the DEA Admin­is­trator to emer­gency schedule an abused, harmful, non-​​medical sub­stance in order to avoid an imminent public health crisis while the formal rule-​​making pro­ced­ures described in the CSA are being conducted.

“The Amer­ican public looks to the DEA to protect its chil­dren and com­munities from those who would exploit them for their own gain,” said DEA Acting Admin­is­trator Michele M. Leon­hart. “Makers of these harmful products mislead their cus­tomers into thinking that ‘fake pot’ is a harm­less altern­ative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case. Today’s action will call further atten­tion to the risks of ingesting unknown com­pounds and will hope­fully take away any incentive to try these products.”

This all happened in the UK a year ago,  and it took about 7 months before any­thing decent returned to the shelves. Which is good news for you ‘Mer’cans–  there’s already loads of stuff avail­able that’s still legal.

Posted in Legislation | Tagged cannabicyclohexanol, CP-47497, JWH-018, jwh-073, JWH-200, k2, spice, synthetic cannabinoids |

Location-Dependent Effects Of Drugs On Behaviour

Drugs on BehaviourClick pic for larger version. Brought to my atten­tion by @tripmenz

Also, have a look at this bit of mini-​​research I did on why we get high in the first place.

Posted in Drugs | Tagged behaviour, infographics |

Dutch Entrepreneurs, Get Ready To Make Some Money

The Dutch coali­tion gov­ern­ment dis­agree on a great many things — much like our own, I suppose, which saw Nick Clegg go from king­maker to skivvy overnight — but the one thing they do agree on is that coffee shops (just typed “coffeesh0ps” by mistake — force of habit!) are an embar­rass­ment to The Neth­er­lands and should be extirpated.


Since they can’t just get rid of them overnight, their first step is to try and ban the sale of can­nabis to anyone who’s not a Dutch res­ident. This has already happened in a couple of towns near the borders, receiving the green light from the EU Court. The appro­priate EU legis­la­tion con­cerning the “freedom to provide ser­vices” would nor­mally prevent bans on trading with for­eigners, but since can­nabis is an illegal drug, it doesn’t count as regular “goods”, and so falls short of the scope of the law. As such, this means they can do the same across the entire country.

If this ever happens, here’s an idea about how it could easily be exploited: get a Dutch res­ident to buy it for you with a small fee, say €1 a gram.

Then it occurred to me that many places allow smoking, but don’t actu­ally sell weed them­selves. If those places had a couple of guys who offered to go get the weed for the for­eigners for that small fee, they could also give a cut to the estab­lish­ment in return for letting them conduct their busi­ness there.

That sounds like it’d work, right?

Posted in Legislation | Tagged cannabis, coffee shops, prohibition, weed |

Nov 2010: What I've Been Up To

Thought I’d write a quick update about what I’ve been up to recently.


So it turns out the best thing about running your own proper busi­ness is not only do you have to shell out shit­loads for an accountant, but your work­load also increases by loads with all the day to day book­keeping! Ugh. Not only am I now busier than ever, but my work enjoy­ment density, or average enjoy­ment per arbit­rary amount of work I have to do, has declined. And! This month is when our first year’s accounts have to be com­pleted, as we’ve been a limited company since last October.

(The one benefit to running a limited company is that I have a “company seal” — a little rubber squeezy stamp type thing that imprints “John & Jo’s Coffeesh0p Limited” in any piece of paper that’s had the mis­for­tune to cross my path. Fuck knows what it’s actu­ally for, but it does offer some small comfort at least.)

So today, I’ve been hacking together various scripts and queries to try and auto­mate the drudgery somewhat.

Stock photo of some account­ants.
Their apparent dynamism & relaxed atti­tude are but a thin veneer dis­guising unpar­alleled boredom, resent­ment for their boss, col­leagues & clients alike, and a cold, black, lonely heart.


I men­tioned it on Twitter, but we went to Ams­terdam a couple of weeks ago. I suppose that’s another perk, since the busi­ness kindly agreed to pay for it. Hope­fully, the Mrs will write up at least some of the trip even­tu­ally, but she’s busier than me! I’ll also talk about a related competition-​​type thing soon…

Anyway, as you’d expect, going away for a week results in moun­tains and moun­tains of…


So many emails! I’m still catching up on the work-​​related ones, and I haven’t had time to reply to anyone that’s emailed me here for lit­er­ally months. Really sorry if you’ve been in touch and I’ve not had the chance to reply yet. Unless you’ve sent me some kind of hate mail. Then I’m not sorry in the slightest!

Bagging Stuff

The problem with selling more and more stuff is that more and more stuff needs pack­aging, which often means my fingers are raw from labelling up bags or I’m elbow-​​deep in kilo­gram sacks of mis­cel­laneous entheogen; tissue rammed up my nose as a pre-​​emptive strike against the inev­it­able green snot or uncon­trol­lable sneezing. On the upside, we’ve recently had our first few whole­sale orders of Meen Green, which is doing way better than we ever could have expected.

New Products

Not only have I got a boxful of products not yet on Coffeesh0p, but we’re also just about to release a new solid, crumbly incense. It’s ser­i­ously amazing, and it’s good to go, I just haven’t had enough time in the day to finally get it on the site!

The thing with new products is, it’s not just uploading data from the sup­plier into a data­base; it’s quite a bit more effort. There’s the usual stuff like pricing and other boring data like what cat­egory they’ll reside in, where abouts in the cat­egory they should go or what other products to recom­mend, but the biggest tasks are writing descrip­tions that are both inter­esting and, most import­antly, honest, without straying into hyped-​​up mar­keting bull­shit talk, and sorting out the images. I’ve seen loads of sites in this industry just robbing crappy lo-​​res pics off other com­peting sites, or using the same stock photo from the sup­plier as everyone else, but where’s the fun in that?! To get a decent pic up along side the product descrip­tion, the first step is trying to take a decent photo of it. This usually involves me running madly between rooms on a quest to achieve the perfect lighting (impossible in this house), com­mand­eering the tiny bath­room mirror to capture the maximum amount of photons, laying down sheets of white paper to make a plain back­ground and fudging together little sup­ports to keep it in all place. When  I’ve finally taken a half decent picture, then I have to pho­toshop the crap out of it.

Before your feathers get all ruffled and you start declaring shenanigans, my goal is to make the digital image actu­ally look like the product in real life. That’s it. I don’t have a proper studio or mega expensive camera — as I said, I take all the product pic­tures round the house, using printer paper for a back­drop in dim light. Most pic­tures start out looking dull, covered in a murky orange haze, so I mainly tinker with the levels,  con­trast, sat­ur­a­tion — that sort of thing — and then try and cut out the back­ground so it’s com­pletely white. For products with actual pack­aging, I might straighten them up, as if I’d taken the picture pre­cisely above it, or I might get rid of the natural, ter­rible shadow and replace it with some­thing slightly more uniform. I also like having a couple of images for each product, so that process needs repeating for each image, then, finally, I need to cut out a suit­able thumb­nail to display on cat­egory pages and search results.

I might actu­ally write a full post about doing product pics, like a step by step guide, so you can see the improve­ments and how little mis­chief I’m really up to. Which brings me to my final point…


My last post already talked about all the behind-​​the-​​scenes stuff I’ve been up to, but I’ve also got a few half fin­ished posts I’ve been meaning to get done, as well as ideas for a million more.

So, yeah, don’t start to think I’ve lost interest, or can’t be arsed replying to you. We’re both in this for the long haul!

Posted in Synchronium | Tagged accounting, amsterdam, business, coffeesh0p, photos, Photoshop, products |

A Change Of Pace

Or rather a change of pace, a change of content and a change of design.

So far, I’ve mainly written art­icles with the primary inten­tion of presenting “the facts”, even if you do have to distil them from the murky cas­serole of ter­rible jokes, swearing and catpix. These kinds of posts might be about a phar­ma­co­lo­gical process, a recipe, tek, or perhaps an update on a news story or devel­oping situ­ation, and I’ve tried to write some­thing about once every week or two. The problem is, these kind of posts usually require all sorts of crazy shit like “fore­thought” and “reading stuff”. It’s not that I’m incap­able of such bizarre activ­ities, it’s just that I’ve often got more to say than the time it would take to say it prop­erly. I’ve always felt it neces­sary to try and cover as much of a topic as I can, while trying to present it nicely as pos­sible, but that level of effort means I can only be arsed only have the time to write art­icles like that sporad­ic­ally.  As a result, I’ve ended up not both­ering to write about a number of inter­esting topics that perhaps weren’t that big of a deal because there’s not enough time in the day to cover them all “prop­erly”.  So, I quit.

Hah. Only joking.

I’m going to try blog­ging a bit more cas­u­ally instead. The plan is to write shorter posts, perhaps not going into all the details, or con­sid­ering all even­tu­al­ities, or whatever. I might be more likely to just quote the odd article, for instance, or maybe just write down my opin­ions on some­thing. The upshot is I’m hoping to post more fre­quently about a broader range of sub­jects, so everyone’s a winner! That is, unless you hate what I have to say, in which case, why haven’t you fucked off yet?

I’m not giving up writing longer posts alto­gether though. Far from it! In fact, writing more posts in general will prob­ably encourage me, and I’ve had a few topics in mind for ages.

The next thing I’m chan­ging is the blog’s design.

Prob­ably some­thing like this?

No, nothing that amazing, don’t panic, just a few tweaks here ‘n’ there to find what works best for the largest amount of people. And I’m going to do it with science!

For a while now, I’ve been thinking how long the blog takes to load, espe­cially the front page, and espe­cially for new users with an empty cache. Shaving off a second or two doesn’t sound like a big deal, but you’d be sur­prised on how much of an impact the speed of a website can have, but it affects almost everything, such as how long people stay on the site, how many pages they view in that visit, how likely it is they’ll pass your link around, how likely it is they’ll buy some­thing and how much they’ll spend (for eco­m­merce sites) and poten­tially where the site will rank in Google.

Pages Per Visit vs Page Speed

Have a look at some more graphs ‘n’ charts to see just how much those few seconds matter.

I’ve already gone through the entire blog and com­pressed the fuck out of every single image, shaving off an entire mega­byte in total, but only a frac­tion of those images are on the front page. Luckily, there’s a few things I can do that will spe­cific­ally affect the front page:

  • Display less posts
  • Display only the first bit of posts (with a “Read More” link to the rest)
  • Don’t display as many images
  • Write shorter posts

That last one I’ve already covered, so what about the first three design-​​related options? Obvi­ously, they’d all reduce load time, and, if I went as far as dis­playing only the one post’s head­line and first three letters with zero images, load time would be minimal, but then no one would stick around anyway. A site needs to be fast, but it still needs some content to keep people engaged.

To find the most effective trade-​​off, I’ve set up a little exper­i­ment… In the mar­keting biz, it’s called a split test, and it works some­thing like this:

You create several dif­ferent ver­sions of some­thing — it could be an entirely dif­ferent page layout or design, or it could be as simple as placing a little button in dif­ferent places on the same page — and then you ran­domly assign each visitor to one par­tic­ular vari­ation (making sure they always see the same vari­ation on sub­sequent visits). Then you just sit back and watch the data pour in.

After a while, you can then start to compare how each group of vis­itors behave. Version #3 might keep people on the site for twice as long, but version #2 might see people return thrice as often. When  enough data has been col­lected, hope­fully a victor will emerge.

Yes­terday, I created six ver­sions of the front page and got the exper­i­ment under way. Here are the details:

V110 full posts are dis­played — this is how it’s been for everyone up to now, so this is the control
V28 full posts
V36 full posts
V4Latest two posts dis­played in full, next two are max 1300 char­ac­ters, next two are max 800, rest are 500 max — 15 posts in total
V5Same as above, but 20 posts (so more of the 500 char­acter excerpts at the bottom)
V620 posts again,  but only first post in full, next two 1300 char­ac­ters max, next five 800 max, rest 500 max

Any­thing that’s not a full post won’t have any images in it either, and older pages (there’s a link to older posts at the bottom of the front page) will display the same as the last post on the front page, so older pages of V1-​​3 will be exactly the same as the front page, while older pages of V4-​​V6 will have 15 or 20 posts of 500 char­acter excerpts with no images. Also, the excerpt length is approx, and will (hope­fully) round off to the nearest whole word.

When it’s clear that one has per­formed better than the other, I’ll stop the exper­i­ment and imple­ment the winning version for all users. Then I’ll prob­ably test some­thing else. Of course, there’s no guar­antee one of them will perform any better, in which case, I’ll pick the one I like best. Whatever happens, I’ll let you know, prob­ably via some off-​​the-​​cuff scribble of a post.

… Which is what I was hoping this post would be, but it looks like I’ve ended up writing loads again.

Posted in Internet Marketing, Synchronium | Tagged content, images, page speed, science, split test |

Let's Ban this Menace to Society, Quick!

As you may remember from my Bach­el­or­ette Drinking Game post, we acci­dent­ally got addicted to The Bach­el­or­ette while on hon­ey­moon and we since watched the rest of the series all the way to the final.

More dan­gerous than cannabis.

What prompted this post is the fact that Ali, the “bach­el­or­ette”, blatantly picked the wrong guy to marry. Basic­ally, she fancied this guy and got rid of the guy who she was better friends with, as being friends is appar­ently not the best way to start a mar­riage. Instead, she picked this steaming pile of cliché who con­tinu­ously struggles to think up the perfect “smooth” response to everything she says. That kind of atti­tude isn’t exactly main­tain­able for a life­time of mar­riage, so we both felt that this man­u­fac­tured engage­ment was bound to end in failure sooner or later.

So I did a bit of research and here’s what I found:

The Bachelor

SeasonOutcomeTime to Failure
1No pro­posal, then broke upSeveral months
2Pro­posed, then broke upSeveral months
3Pro­posed, then broke upSeveral months
4No pro­posal, then broke upSeveral months
5No pro­posal, then broke upSeveral months
6Engaged, not sure if they got married, then broke upFive years!
7No pro­posal, then on again off again relationshipTwo stints of two years
8No pro­posal, then broke upShortly after
9No pro­posal, then broke upSeveral months
10Engaged, called off the engage­ment but con­tinued rela­tion­ship then broke upOne month to call off engage­ment, several months to break up
11No pro­posal, both women rejected-
12Pro­posed, then broke upSeveral months
13Pro­posed, then changed mind and married the runner upInstantly, but him and runner up still together
14Pro­posed, then broke upSeveral months

The Bachelorette

SeasonOutcomeTime to Failure
1Pro­posed, marriedStill together!
2Pro­posed, then broke upSeveral months
3No pro­posal, both blokes rejected-
4Pro­posed, then broke upSeveral months
5Pro­posed, then broke upSeveral months
6Engaged …for nowIn all like­li­hood, “several months”

For The Bach­elor, that’s 11 out of 14 seasons that ended in what I’d con­sider a com­plete failure. I’d say season 6 was the most suc­cessful, leading to a 5 year mar­riage. Not amazing by a long shot, but def­in­itely the fur­thest from an abysmal failure. Season 7 was slightly worse, with the couple man­aging two stints of two years. Worse still, but perhaps not quite in the same league of failure as the rest was season 13, where the bloke ended up mar­rying the runner up. Yes, they’re still together, but that season was in 2009 — hardly worth getting excited about, right? If you’re won­dering why I clas­sify season 11 (everyone rejected) as a failure, well, I’d con­sider any­thing other than a long happy mar­riage a failure for the reasons I’ll set out shortly.

The pre­vious five seasons of The Bach­el­or­ette have only given us one success, and based on what we saw from the latest season, I’m not holding out much hope.

How These Programs Wreck Lives

I can’t claim that some­thing is a menace to society without giving some reasons, so let’s have a quick think over some of the ways people can end up hurt…

First off, the mar­riages this program churns out are far more likely to end in divorce com­pared with the real world. And that’s a down­side that only affects the winners. One half of the winning couple also has to be con­stantly aware of the fact that their new husband or wife was not only seeing mul­tiple part­ners right up to their engage­ment, but also will likely see their new spouse with all these dif­ferent people when they inev­it­ably end up rewatching clips from their series, or having to talk about it for magazines, catch-​​up shows, etc. This also applies to both sets of parents — one of which will be thinking their child is some kind of whore and the other having to watch their child be sys­tem­at­ic­ally cheated on until their engagement.

If that’s how shit it must be for the winners, what’s it like for the losers then? Other than the imme­diate misery/​humiliation res­ulting from rejec­tion, the whole exper­i­ence then becomes a massive skeleton-​​in-​​the-​​closet for any future rela­tion­ships. If you got kicked off the program toward the begin­ning, you might have come across as an arse or some­thing, but the later you stay on, the more serious your rela­tion­ship becomes — all of which is metic­u­lously doc­u­mented for any future girl/​boyfriend to watch, if they haven’t seen it already. One guy in this latest series we watched even got a tattoo to com­mem­orate the experience/​show any pro­spective girl­friends just how com­pletely mental he was.

The winners who then get divorced are for­tu­nate enough to receive both sets of crip­pling dis­ad­vant­ages, as well as then having to actu­ally get a divorce! That’s not like an ex that gets less and less sig­ni­ficant the longer you’ve been apart — it’s a legal pro­cedure that you’ll con­stantly have to declare and explain away to future partners.

To top it all off, this program is being pumped out by a country where around half of its pop­u­la­tion of over 310 million people oppose gay mar­riage; one of their reas­oning being that it threatens the sanc­tity of mar­riage. Funnily enough, it’s this same chunk of the pop­u­la­tion that claims can­nabis will send you mental and wreck your family.

When you compare The Bach­elor with the odd joint, sud­denly it doesn’t seem so bad…

Posted in Drugs | Tagged cannabis, gay rights, society, the bachelorette, tv |

JWH-018 Toxicology Wordcloud

Just knocked up this little graphic (via Wordle & Pho­toshop) using the full text of my JWH-​​018 Tox­ic­o­logy article:

Posted in Drugs | Tagged JWH-018 |

Ben Goldacre, The Mrs & I

I’ve almost fin­ished a blog post about everyone’s favourite topic, The Bach­el­or­ette, but in the mean time, here’s a picture of us two and Ben Goldacre:

This was taken just after his lecture in Birm­ingham for the British Science Fest­ival a few weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know who he is, Ben Gol­dacre is a doctor, writes the  Bad Science column in The Guardian every Sat­urday, runs a blog & forums at Bad​Science​.net and has also released the amaz­ingly unput­down­able book …Bad Science.

In my list of 5 Books To Expand Your Mind, this is what I had to say about Bad Science:

Bad Science is your defence against a world of horse crap where everyone is trying to rip you off.

What it’s about: Con­fused about MMR jabs? Homoe­opathy? Crystal healing? Fish oil? Then read this book.

Why it will expand your mind: You’ll learn the sim­pli­city of the sci­entific method and why it’s so important to the world we live in. It will teach you to think for your­self and apply a healthy dose of scep­ti­cism to the next dose of health advice you might hear about from someone trying to sell you some­thing. Not par­tic­u­larly mind expanding on its own, but it has a synergy with all the other books in this list.

There’s also a chapter from the book else­where on the blog: The Doctor Will Sue You Now.

The lecture itself was on “Drug Company Bull­shit”, describing the various tricks big phar­ma­ceut­ical com­panies perform in order to make their results look good, massage bad results or make them dis­ap­pear entirely. Quite a dry, tech­nical talk really, but what else should two trouble­makers like us be doing on a Friday night in Birmingham?

Since science is obvi­ously really important, if you’ve got a minute, please con­sider signing this peti­tion trying to stop cuts in vital science funding.

Oh, and for anyone won­dering about my awesome T-​​shirt, it has this to say:

Posted in Personal | Tagged bad science, ben goldacre, science |

What The Bible Has To Say About Drugs

Awesome. The pope has arrived in the UK. That’s just what this country needs — a bill to the tax­payer of upwards of £10 million so a paedo-​​concealin’ old bloke can pat­ronise us all with his out­dated moral code and flag­rant dis­regard for human rights, even though only a quarter of us act­ively support the visit, at a time when science funding is about to face mon­strous cuts. Bril­liant!

To cel­eb­rate, I thought I’d take a look at what the Bible had to say about drugs. Obvi­ously, I’m no theo­lo­gian, so I’m basing this post on the inter­pret­a­tion given by GotQues​tions​.org (GQ from now on), who:

Seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by providing bib­lical, applic­able, and timely answers to spiritually-​​related ques­tions through an internet presence.

Their website looks to be quite a big deal, prob­ably getting over 100,000 pageviews a day, so who better to spir­itu­ally guide us on our quest for inform­a­tion? Let’s get started…

The Bible doesn’t have any­thing to say about drugs expli­citly, however drug use is covered within the scope of other, broader teachings.

“…some­thing some­thing some­thing complete!”

Rule #1 - Don't break the law

Everyone must submit himself to the gov­erning author­ities, for there is no authority except that which God has estab­lished. The author­ities that exist have been estab­lished by God. Con­sequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has insti­tuted, and those who do so will bring judg­ment on them­selves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring pun­ish­ment on the wrong­doer. There­fore, it is neces­sary to submit to the author­ities, not only because of pos­sible pun­ish­ment but also because of conscience.

Romans 13:1 – 5

So, that imme­di­ately rules out any illegal drug use, lest an “agent of wrath […] bring pun­ish­ment”, so that’s a “No” to can­nabis, LSD, ecstasy, heroin, etc! GQ help­fully offers up this snippet of wisdom, in case we feel the laws are unjust:

Con­trary to popular belief [what?!], simply dis­agreeing with a law does not con­sti­tute a license for breaking that law.

Can­nabis should be legal, I hear you scream! But what about alcohol and tobacco, I hear you ask? Hypo­crisy! Well, our friends at GQ have already thought of that:

Many have argued that marijuana does not warrant pro­hib­i­tion. They contend that smoking pot in defi­ance of the law is jus­ti­fi­able on these grounds and in light of (what they per­ceive to be) the hypo­crisy of out­lawing weed while allowing nicotine and alcohol con­sump­tion. Those who argue this point may be sincere in their con­vic­tion, but they are mis­taken non­ethe­less. Heart­felt disdain for the law does not justify impunity towards it, as our Lord Himself made clear. While rebuking the Phar­isees for turning the Law of Moses into an excess­ively oppressive yoke, Christ still required His dis­ciples to submit to their unfairly harsh demands (Matthew 23:1 – 36, espe­cially 1 – 4). Dutiful sub­mis­sion to authority and patient per­sever­ance through unjust suf­fering and/​or per­ceived unfair­ness (1 Peter 2:18 – 23 [Partly quoted below]) is God’s high standard for us – even if that means having to abstain from marijuana in com­pli­ance with “unfair” legislation.

Here’s the coolest bit of the Bible they ref­er­ence to support their point, so you don’t have to go looking it up:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and con­sid­erate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is com­mend­able if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suf­fering because he is con­scious of God.

1 Peter 2:18 – 19

Right, ok. So breaking the law is bad, no matter how unjust we think it is. Fair enough. Surely then, we can smoke a bit of weed in The Neth­er­lands or enjoy some coca tea in Bolivia, or consume some legal highs? Right? Right?!


Rule #2 - Don't harm your body

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone des­troys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

1 Cor­inthians 3:16 – 17

Everyone knows drugs are harmful. In fact, here’s an old graph listing 20 dif­ferent drugs ordered by the harm they cause. You’ve almost def­in­itely seen it before.

Notice how no drug in that graph has a harm rating of zero, and according to GQ:

Beyond stew­ard­ship, as Chris­tians, our bodies are not our own. We “have been bought with a price” (1 Cor­inthians 6:19 – 20), not “with per­ish­able things like silver or gold … but with pre­cious blood, as of a lamb unblem­ished and spot­less, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:17 – 19). Having bought us with His own life, Christ has delighted to create in us some­thing entirely new, some­thing some­what bizarre. By indwelling us with His Spirit, He has turned us into organic temples of sorts. So now, caring for our health is not just a matter of good stew­ard­ship. It is a matter of rev­er­en­tial piety. To pollute or harm our bodies is to desec­rate the House of God (1 Cor­inthians 3:16 – 17 [The bit I quoted earlier]). This is both won­drous and terrifying.

GQ also talk about a number of indi­vidual drugs and the damage they cause. Here’s what they have to say about cannabis:

Marijuana, while being the least harmful of all of the illicit drugs, is still poten­tially lethal. Marijuana enthu­si­asts (“pot­heads”) take comfort in the fact that, unlike most other illicit drugs, it is seem­ingly impossible to fatally over­dose on weed by means of normal con­sump­tion (i.e. smoking it). But this does nothing to diminish the poten­tially fatal risks of lung cancer, emphysema, and other forms of chronic obstructive pul­monary disease (COPD) caused by marijuana smoke. While marijuana can be ingested without smoking it, thereby elim­in­ating these risks, there still remain neg­ative physiolo­gical and psy­cho­lo­gical con­sequences including damage to the repro­ductive system, the immune system, and cog­nitive ability.

At this point I was won­dering what their guid­ance was on alcohol but they don’t seem to have men­tioned it. That’s odd, what with alcohol being ranked fifth most harmful on that graph above. Looks like I’ll have to come to my own con­clu­sions without GQ’s help then! Let me think for a moment…

Ok, got it. In John 2:1 – 11, Jesus turns water into wine:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his dis­ciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the ser­vants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for cere­mo­nial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the ser­vants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the ser­vants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bride­groom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

This, the first of his mira­cu­lous signs, Jesus per­formed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his dis­ciples put their faith in him.

John 2:1 – 11

Crikey, how about that then! If Jesus himself not only con­dones drinking wine but prac­tic­ally busts out a keg, then alcohol must be the excep­tion to the rule, despite the massive objective harm alcohol causes, right? I know what you’re thinking — one bible quote doesn’t neces­sarily mean that’s the case. What about other evid­ence? Well, there’s also the Cath­olic belief in tran­sub­stan­ti­ation, which:

means the change of the sub­stance of bread and wine into the sub­stance of the Body and Blood (respect­ively) of Christ in the Eucharist, while all that is access­ible to the senses (acci­dents) remains as before.

Wiki­pedia on Tran­sub­stan­ti­ation

For starters, that’s what Cath­olics lit­er­ally believe. The wine they use in church has *lit­er­ally* become the blood of Christ, despite appearing to be wine and retaining all the prop­er­ties of the wine, including alcohol content. The fact that Cath­olics not only drink this for­ti­fied Jesus-​​elixir routinely, and also that wine was selected by Christ to represent/​become/​whatever his blood both support my con­clu­sion that alcohol is fiiiiiiine com­pared with the rest of the evil drugs, according to the bible and common church practice.

As I men­tioned pre­vi­ously though, I’m no theo­lo­gian, so I welcome other people’s thoughts on my con­clu­sion in the comments.

Here are some final words of wisdom from my spir­itual guides at GQ, this time on addiction:

As for drug addic­tion, not all illicit drugs are phys­ic­ally addictive. Nev­er­the­less, they are all psy­cho­lo­gic­ally addictive. While most people are familiar with phys­ical addic­tion – the pro­gressive con­di­tion whereby the human body becomes phys­ic­ally dependent upon a drug in order to func­tion prop­erly – psy­cho­lo­gical addic­tion is less well-​​known. Psy­cho­lo­gical addic­tion is an enslave­ment of the mind, often char­ac­ter­ized by obsessive tend­en­cies and a lack of desire to quit. While phys­ical addic­tion brings the body into sub­jec­tion, psy­cho­lo­gical addic­tion brings the will into sub­mis­sion. Users tend to say things like, “I could quit if I wanted to, but I just don’t want to.” This atti­tude tends to ensure a long-​​term pattern of drug use whereby users become devotees in defi­ance of a very poignant bib­lical prin­ciple. The fact is, no one can whole­heartedly serve two masters (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Any time spent kneeling before the god of drugs [Best god freakin’ ever!!1] is time spent with your back towards the God of the Bible.

Fant­astic stuff.

Finally, be sure to take a look at what neur­os­cientist and philo­sopher Sam Harris has to say about Reli­gion & Drugs.

Here’s the link to the GQ page I’ve been quoting from, so you can bask in its glory.

Posted in Drugs | Tagged alcohol, cannabis, catholicism, jesus, religion, sam harris, the bible, the pope |